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Domestic violence campaign a challenge for men

A message from our Founder, Charlie King:

During the past week the NO MORE Campaign received national attention when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed Parliament passing a motion acknowledging that violence against women is a national issue that requires a whole of community response.

His call was echoed by the Leader of the Opposition and they both urged all members of Parliament and indeed all Australians to link up and get behind the NO MORE Campaign. There was the symbolic linking of arms at the front of parliament house as a sign of this commitment.

The Rirratjingu dancers from Arnhem Land led the Djan’kawu a dance that dates back more than 60 000 years, and calls for the respect of all women. It was a powerful image and what we need to take from this is both hope and confidence that there is a way forward in responding to domestic and family violence.

The NO MORE Campaign is an Indigenous-led grassroots initiative that has grown in the Territory. Although under resourced, it has influenced change and action at a Territory and National level. The campaign recognises that the systems that we have in place to protect the most vulnerable often fall short and let down the very people they were intended to protect.

In 2007 the Little Children Are Sacred report was released which outlined serious issues facing our community. A Ministerial advisory group on family and children matters was established, it became obvious to the group that there was an absence of men’s voices, and in particular an absence of Aboriginal men’s voices from outside of the major centres. For the violence to stop men’s behaviour had to change and men needed to be a key part of the solution. Men consistently agreed that the violence needed to stop; “NO MORE” was their call. Men would link their arms as a sign of commitment and solidarity. Sporting clubs quickly joined the linking up as a way of encouraging other men to make a stand.

Community norms play an important part in whether violence is tolerated, where there is a high level of disapproval towards violence and those who perpetrate it and support is available for victims, behaviour begins to change. It is not easy when violence in our community is tolerated at so many levels, we see violence not only in families, but in the pubs and clubs and in the way we communicate and use words to harm people. But by listening to these men we started to see that if we could support people in the community who were prepared to take a stand and to start build positive community attitudes where violence is unacceptable we could start the journey of change. Relying on the justice system alone to deter family and domestic violence unfortunately does not work.

The recent coronial inquiry into the brutal deaths of two Aboriginal women highlighted very starkly that the police and correctional services should not be expected to carry the responsibility for ending violence, yes it right to punish people for their crimes, but let’s not believe that this is a deterrent or makes women safer. The police and corrections have a role; the reforms that we are seeing emerging are positive but only provide a part of the solution. Developing partnerships with the police and correctional services, in other words — linking up, has been an important part of the success of the NO MORE Campaign and we have memorandum of understanding with each of these agencies. 

One important lesson we have learnt is that men do not want to be seen as failures in the eyes of other men and this can be a strong motivational factor in engaging with men about family and domestic violence. As a community we need to build a culture where men are the champions of nonviolence, where men can stand up to other men and challenge behaviours and attitudes. This is why we focused on sport as key site for targeting change, leading NGO, CatholicCare NT agreed to support the initiative and we were able to start funding some positions so that the we could keep the momentum going and to develop a program to support the Campaign. The NO MORE Campaign is a prevention program aimed at changing attitudes about women through awareness raising and direct action.

The NO MORE Campaign has three primary components:

1. Engaging with communities, sporting clubs and other groups to gather momentum for change, this can include community meetings, marches or having dedicated sporting events promoting NO MORE. Engaging with communities allows us to identify those champions for change.  

2. Working with clubs or community groups to develop Domestic Violence Action plans. This focuses on how clubs can develop strategies that show respect towards women and develop responses to respond to perpetrators or victims of violence.

3. The NO MORE team provides ongoing support and training to clubs or community groups who have Domestic Violence Action Plans to help with the implementation of them. The program has been developed in a way that sporting clubs or groups outside of the NT can use the concept and adapt it to their own community.

The NO MORE Campaign aims to drive a message that gives men the knowledge and the capacity to confront what is unacceptable. While it is an Indigenous initiative the Campaign targets all men, as violence against women is pervasive across all parts of Australian society. We have had national clubs support the initiative with the Parramatta Eels developing their own domestic violence action plan, and the Australian Baseball League are set be the first National League to take on the initiative on Australia wide level. The AFLNT demonstrated great leadership by putting the requirement to have domestic violence action plans into all licencing agreements with Clubs.

The success of the campaign has been our commitment to partnerships and bringing people together, as no one organisation or government initiative or agency can effectively work on this in isolation. Changing men’s attitudes and behaviour is not just going to happen because we want it to, a harsher criminal justice system won’t keep women safe and we can’t leave it to the next generation, because they are already following in our footsteps. We do want to see incarceration levels go down and we want men to succeed and this success will be measured by how well we respond to this issue. The challenge for men is that the culture of controlling and being violent towards women must change.

We need to look beyond what we have always done and be prepared to venture into different ways of thinking and doing. Throughout Australia I see an emergence of Aboriginal men’s groups and other men who want to lead a change. The solution requires men being given the mandate and responsibility to take leadership in this area. Men must be part of this picture and the NO MORE Campaign offers a way forward to achieve this. This week the two most powerful people in our nation came together, united in their belief that change can happen and that violence must stop.

Through communities working together, the NO MORE Campaign has proven that violence can be reduced. We believe that family and domestic violence is preventable. The festive season has again arrived, a time where families come together and a time historically where we see a spike in domestic violence rates. This year I implore men to not let this happen; there are others ways to manage problems. We believe that men are the problem and men are the solution. We will remain as the problem as long as we do nothing, and we become the solution if we do something.

Ask yourself, what can you do?